I hate nostalgia. I always have, ever since I was a small boy growing up in the 80s, when you could buy a bottle of Rola cola and a Marathon and still have change from a pound note. I remember watching The Two Ronnies Christmas special and thinking ‘this is good enough. Why compare the present to the past?’ The nation had just watched Den Watts presenting Angie with divorce papers across the dinner table, an event which stomped all over TV events of the past. We even videoed it, and showed it off to visitors, who couldn’t not guffaw at the rewinding cockneys.
Nostalgia was nothing new even then. My neighbour Denzil would snort contemptuously at the Abba fans who, in jumpsuits and platforms, seemed to wish it was still the seventies. ‘Yeah, the three-day week and Middle Eastern wars,’ he would mutter, strapping his ghetto blaster to his BMX. ‘Don’t they care for digital watches? For computers?’ And off he would go to a CND rally, working his three gears like one possessed.
Who could be dissatisfied with life at a time like this, a time of Tomorrow’s World making firm promises about what would definitely happen soon, the Challenger space shuttle preparing to launch, and the ultramodern music of Sigue Sigue Sputnik and Westworld providing the soundtrack to our exciting new lives? In the midst of all this, who would choose to look backwards?
My friend Daniel shared my disdain for all things historical. We would often go to the corner shop after school and buy stickers for our Panini albums. Whether it was the World Cup or Transformers, those foil stickers were always the hardest to find. But harder to find, for us, was a sense of reverence for the past.
‘Maybe it’s about security,’ he said, magnanimously, one time. We were playing Jetpac while we waited for Orm and Cheep to start. He was the best I had seen at this game, blasting through those coloured flying things like a proton stream through ectoplasm. I admired that he was so at home in technology, not fazed by the futuristic landscapes of the ZX Spectrum. Not like our parents’ generation, who reacted to the silicon chip like those Amazon tribes did to cars and reggae.
‘The world is changing so much and so quickly and it frightens them. So they want to cling on to what’s familiar. The past is over and so they know where they are with it.’
I nodded, dipping into my sherbet Dip Dabs as the game crashed again. Familiarity was key. The older you got, the less you had to be certain about. That was why my Dad listened to his jazz LPs while wearing his flat cap – for a sense of continuity. I certainly didn’t share in that. An awkward child, not at home in the recent past nor feeling welcomed by the near future, it was only with difficulty that I straddled the gap between my parents’ narrow East End background and the metropolitan world of slogan T-shirts and choc ices I found myself in. I felt like a fourth TV channel, controversial and not accessible to everyone.
‘This is a great time to be an adult,’ my older brother would say, cinching his white jeans way above his navel. ‘I’m young and upwardly mobile. I use hair gel and pretend to be posh like they do in those sit-coms. And the pub will be open in a couple of days, which is something to look forward to.’
My sister took a similar view. Sitting on a bean bag, crimping her hair while listening to Frankie Goes to Hollywood, she would be lost in thought, and tended to respond to any of my questions by saying ‘read this’, and throwing me a feminist leaflet. This was how I learned of the cultural wars being fought and won in that decade. The increasing size of women’s hair mirrored their greater sense of self-determination, the increasing popularity of Lycra displayed a growing sexual confidence. One by one the old orthodoxies were being shaken. While the seventies celebrated the repression of homosexuality, the eighties saw gays running the pop charts.
It wasn’t all good news though. We knew the man who carved ‘AIDS’ on that headstone in that advert. He was richer than he’d ever been in his career but came to realise he’d creeped out an entire generation. Thanks to him the masonry industry had taken a knock it would never fully recover from. No one wanted cold stone any more, but modern, forward-looking fibreglass, without the taint of sexual misadventure and death. Ironically, many bitter stone masons consoled themselves in sharing needles and unprotected sex, which only made things much worse.
But the cause of my own sorrow was paradoxically also the cause of my greatest joy: Sally Bickerton. The Pandora to my Adrian Mole, Charlene to my Scott, Debbie to my Damon (that’s a Brookside reference). Just the rattle of her bangles in assembly was enough to set my heart jumping, the smell of her mousse as I passed her in the corridor an intoxicating intimation of an as yet unknowable goal. As I gazed at her in maths lessons, I felt at last I knew what Bon Jovi were on about in all their songs.
She was the first person I ever wrote poetry for. For hours alone in my bedroom I would interrogate my soul to find the closest rendering of the indescribable turmoil I suffered. Some of it survives to this day, such as the searingly powerful:
‘Our love will blunt the leopard’s jaw,
Quell the tsunami’s mighty rain,
Make terr’rists defuse their war,
Make poets out of Cybermen.’
Though it wasn’t all carefree. It got dark at times. So dark:
‘O, let the bombs fall, o burn the sky blind,
Let it all drown in fiery oblivion,
If that is what it takes to wipe from my mind
The way you smiled at Stephen.’ ‘
Who knows what might have been, if I had ever managed to actually talk to her. The intensity of this lasted right up until Katie Lubbock came along, and I realised it was her I was destined to marry. Or maybe the one after her. Or the one after that. It was all academic anyway, as anyone who has ever been an adolescent boy can attest.
So when the eighties ended I cheered the passing of an entirely miserable and irredeemable decade. Not that the nineties were any better. Or even the beginning of this century. Just yesterday, in fact, I caught my jeans on a nail and tore them. And the other week I dropped a jar of olives in Tesco which smashed, causing me extreme embarrassment. The past was horrible. The future will always be better. Don’t let anyone try to tell you otherwise.
We also had a Ford Cortina.